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Trans in Esperanto Posted by on Dec 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Today I’d like to give a voice to a friend of mine who made a significant change in her life. Here is her article about her experiences in the Esperanto community.

Sophia

Sophia

Sophia: A short introduction to the concept: being trans, an abbreviation for transgender or transsexual, means that I was born with a body that didn’t fit me as far as apparent gender is concerned, and I’ve taken steps to transform it, as well as to take up a different role in society. I don’t believe I was ever a man; all that’s changed has been my appearance as well as how I affirm myself.

As a result of being trans I go through some of the most intense discrimination you can imagine. I’m bisexual, for instance, and have experienced discrimination both for being apparently a gay man and apparently a lesbian woman. I’ve been heckled, for instance, and stared at. I wasn’t always able to openly display affection for my girlfriend. Sometimes guys have ignored the obvious and just assumed we’re straight and available, and tried to flirt with one or both of us, something which would never happen if we were a male-female couple.

However, this discrimination is an order of magnitude less than the discrimination which I can directly connect with being trans. I’ve had people who consider themselves left-wing, conscious or tolerant throw me out of their house, or their social group, or tell me not to contact them again. I’ve had water thrown on me, a billion insults from random strangers on the street, and all sorts of people in perfectly reasonable voices telling me that I am fundamentally unattractive or undeserving of my basic rights.

Being Trans In Esperantujo

Trans flag

Trans flag

Well, I thought it would be interesting now for me to write about the difference between my experiences being trans in Esperantujo and being trans in normal life. [Editor’s note: Esperantujo is the Esperanto word for the abstract concept of everywhere in the world where Esperanto is currently spoken.]

For a lot of people, Esperantujo is a sort of safe haven; a place where they can be themselves, and know that they will be accepted.

To some extent, Esperantujo is that for me. I certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable when I was holding my girlfriend’s hand at an Esperanto event, for instance. I don’t feel like people are going to find me strange for being polyamorous, or vegan, or for having unusual esoteric beliefs.

As for being trans… let’s say that I don’t let my guard down. There are a lot of people in Esperantujo who very fully accept who I am. For instance, I find that quite a few of the straight men in Esperantujo are open to flirting with me. Outside Esperantujo on the other hand, most straight men who know I am trans are so scared of being seen by others as gay that you can pretty much see them searching for masculine aspects of my appearance so that they don’t have to be attracted to me.

Transphobia In Esperantujo

On the other hand, I’ve had some pretty crappy experiences with transphobia in Esperantujo.

My first Esperanto event was the Junulara Esperanto-Semajno (JES 2012-2013). I hadn’t taken hormones yet and it was still fairly easy to see I was trans just by looking at me.

I experienced reasonably good treatment – well, except for the millions of micro-discriminations which were a fact of my everyday life back then. Of course, I heard the occasional accidental “he” – or intentional one – something which is capable of making me feel far worse than I wish a single, often innocently-intended word could. I got stared at. I was asked awkward questions. The usual.

A friend did tell me, though, that several people had talked to her about me. Apparently, it was mostly Russians and Ukrainians – I guess because of their more conservative cultures. She reported that one had said, “Why does the boy want to be a girl and the girl want to be a boy??” – unfair, since my partner at the time was just presenting androgynously.

Once I took hormones and started blending in as a woman, the micro-discriminations lessened, both in and out of Esperantujo. Still, I’ve kept doing talks about transsexuality in most of the Esperanto events I’ve gone to, and that’s given people a chance to know I am trans and also talk about the topic with me, which quite often turns uncomfortable. For instance, one member of my audience in a recent talk referred to me as male right after I had given a long monologue on why doing exactly that is both incorrect and incredibly uncomfortable for me to hear.

I’ve only had one experience of severe discrimination in Esperantujo, the details of which are unpleasant enough that I won’t recount them here. But that did contribute to me feeling genuinely uncomfortable in that event.

Overall

Nowadays, I’m wondering whether to stop doing my talks about trans issues and blend in. The thought of doing so chafes me ideologically, but it’s also true that I enjoy social experiences much better when I am not bombarded with discrimination, minor and major, and of course I only get that when people know my history. Esperantujo is a safe-ish place in that regard, but still not safe enough as far as I’m concerned.

Overall, I’d say Esperantujo is sort of polarised. On one hand, there are quite a few people in Esperantujo who are really aware of trans issues or just really accepting, and around those I feel genuinely comfortable, like I can really let my hair down. People like that are rarer to find outside of Esperantujo.

On the other hand, Esperanto attracts people from all sorts of cultures, including the more conservative ones, and some of those people seem rather less comfortable around me. Besides that, there is a small minority of somewhat extreme personalities that seem to be drawn to Esperanto, anti-social people who are maybe looking for an accepting place, I don’t know; these, when they choose to get in my face, can do a lot to make my experience in these events less enjoyable.

If you’re moved by these words, I would recommend, like I recommend anyone, that you read a little about trans issues and get educated. I think a great start is Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. (Try to avoid mainstream documentaries, though, as the message is often distorted according to what the producers think their viewers can handle). Besides that, perhaps you can come to one of my talks on the topic if we’re at the same Esperanto event – supposing I keep doing them.

Related Esperanto vocabulary

transsexual = trans-seksa
transsexual person = transseksulo
bisexual = ambaŭ-seks-ema (literally: both-sex-inclined)
homosexual = sam-seks-ema (literally: same-sex-inclined)
heterosexual = mal-sam-seks-ema (literally: different-sex-inclined)
polyamorous = plur-am-ema (literally: many-love-inclined)
gay = gejo
lesbian = lesbo
queer = kviro

Sophia’s photo used with permission. Flag image attribution: user Torbakhopper on Flickr.com.

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About the Author:Chuck Smith

I was born in the US, but Esperanto has led me all over the world. I started teaching myself Esperanto on a whim in 2001, not knowing how it would change my life. The timing couldn’t have been better; around that same time I discovered Wikipedia in it’s very early stages and launched the Esperanto version. When I decided to backpack through Europe, I found Esperanto speakers to host me. These connections led me to the Esperanto Youth Organization in Rotterdam, where I worked for a year, using Esperanto as my primary language. Though in recent years I’ve moved on to other endeavors like iOS development, I remain deeply engrained in the Esperanto community, and love keeping you informed of the latest news. The best thing that came from learning Esperanto has been the opportunity to connect with fellow speakers around the globe, so feel free to join in the conversation with a comment! I am now the founder and CTO of the social app Amikumu.


Comments:

  1. James Bulls:

    Dankon pro la perskeptivo, Sophia. Mi legas ke la ago de levigi la nivelon de konscio pri transaj aferoj estas nedankema laboro por la levigantoj, do dankon el mi al vi pro via laboro.

  2. annA:

    Sophia,
    On one hand I totally understand that you may not wish to make any more lectures, it must be tiring, and sometimes “senesperiga” – on another I really hope you will continue to do them, at least from time to time. Maybe thanks to that there will be less and less of nasty remarks in the future, not only in esperantujo but also outside of it.
    See you soon at JES
    annA

  3. ROS' Haruo:

    Thanks for letting Sophia speak here, Chuck. Can you or she suggest anything to read on the subject of being transsexual *in* Esperanto?

  4. Tim Owen:

    Esperanto-speakers aren’t themselves a heterogeneous group but rather a collection of individuals from a range of backgrounds. On balance I find them generally to be an accepting, tolerant bunch (although try declining participating in singing La Espero around some older Esperantists if you want to test and expose that) but having read some appalling homophobic comments written online in Esperanto and emanating from parts of the world where “there aren’t any” [sic] people who aren’t cisgendered heteros, I’m not surprised at some of the reactions that Sophia reports.

    I think it’s probably important not to expect all people to be similarly enlightened. Esperanto isn’t a panacea for the world’s ills. Learning it and endorsing it won’t magically make all people from parts of the world where they’ve never seen or heard of a trans person (except presented as deviants and freaks from the West) accept that people are people, who should be judged on their character and actions. They’re reflective of their backgrounds, and there might well have been similar reactions from our cohort a few decades ago. But I suspect we’ll get there in the end.

  5. EO Speaker:

    I though political neutrality was the foundation of Esperanto…

  6. EO Speaker:

    I’m going to expand on my earlier comment, because this irks me.

    How would you feel about a guy named Muḥammad giving speeches at Esperanto events about how immoral it is to allow women to wear skirts? What makes Muḥammad wrong and Sophia right? Hundreds of millions of people agree with Muḥammad and disagree with you. Esperanto isn’t supposed to be a soapbox for one side over the other.

    Esperanto is for everyone, not just left-wing white people.

    • Grishgo:

      @EO Speaker Unless we read two different articles, this had nothing to do with claiming any morality, and instead was about someone’s experience within the Esperanto community, which is very worthy of discussion. The difference is that morality was not discussed. Unless you wish to claim that mere existence as a trans person is political, than there was no politics present except the ones you presumed.

  7. Anonymous:

    I need clarification.

    Which pronoun is used before meeting the person?

    Which pronoun is used before the person’s transition?

    Which pronoun is used during the person’s transition?

    Which pronoun is used when the person rejects gender binary?

    Which pronoun is used when the person rejects both “he” and “she”?

    Which pronoun is used when the person wants to be neither male nor female?

    Is it normal, while being attracted to females, to be jealous when females turn into males?

    Is it normal, while being attracted to males, to be jealous when males turn into females?

    Is there a way to end jealousy from the loss of a female?

    Is there a way to end jealousy from the loss of a male?

    How does one end jealousy from the loss of a female?

    How does one end jealousy from the loss of a male?

    Thank you for your help.

  8. ŝtelisto:

    Ĉu vere estas “ne-neŭtre” peti, ke homoj vin respektu? Ĉu parolado, kiu celas devigi ion al aliuloj vere similas al la simpla peto, ke oni vin respektu? Transsekseco nenion devigas al aliaj homoj, neniel influas vian vivon, neniel limigas viajn rajtojn, ne diras al vi kiel agi nek kion fari. Se ĉiuj nomus min per malĝusta nomo, ĉu vi kontraŭstarus, ke mi faru paroladon por peti, ke oni nomu min per la ĝusta nomo? Ĉu estus “politike ne-neŭtre”? Eble al vi ne gravas la (pro)nomo, per kio oni vin nomas, sed por aliaj tio estas ege grava afero. Ni ne petas, ke vi mem fariĝu transseksulo nek ke vi faru neniun ŝanĝon en via vivo, nur ke vi laŭeble klopodu uzi la ĝustan nomon kiam vi priparolas aliulon kaj ke vi traktu nin kiel homojn. Laŭ mi la respekto ne estas politika afero..